Mitt Romney says Obama is “pitting one American against another and engaging in class warfare” and lately has defended his family’s wealth by saying he wouldn’t “apologize” for the success of himself and his father, former auto executive and Michigan Gov. George Romney.
But when it comes to the substance of their policies, a good case can be made that Romney and the Republicans are the ones waging class warfare against the less fortunate.
After all, they are pushing tax policies that predominantly benefit the rich and, in trying to balance the budget, would force cuts in federal programs that mainly benefit the poor and the middle class.
The GOP has campaigned for three years against Obama’s health program by appealing to employed and other better situated Americans who are satisfied with their current coverage. But the program’s initial beneficiaries are those who can’t afford health insurance or have been excluded by insurance companies.
The real dispute, of course, stems from the diametrically opposite ways in which the two parties propose to cope with the federal government’s fiscal woes.
Obama, after refusing to adopt the proposals of his own bipartisan budget panel, the Simpson-Bowles Commission, now favors its basic approach of combining budget cuts with tax increases, though he disagrees on some specifics. But he has been less than candid on how to rein in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security costs.
His bottom line would increase the tax burden on wealthier Americans while protecting the domestic programs that mainly help the poor and the middle class and make what he calls “investments” in the country’s future.
On taxes, he’d restore the higher rates for families earning more than $250,000 that existed before the Bush tax cuts and ensure that anyone earning over $1 million paid at least 30 percent in taxes.
The Republicans, meanwhile, have adopted the approach of the prior Bush administration, keeping lower rates for all Americans, including the wealthy, and giving the latter additional benefits by lowering capital gains taxes and eliminating estate taxes.
To accommodate reduced revenue, they would expand spending cuts for domestic programs, limit proposed cutbacks in defense and replace guaranteed Medicare with a voucher program to enable seniors to buy government or private insurance.
Romney has endorsed this plan, which passed the GOP-controlled House under the leadership of Rep.
Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. He has proposed capping federal spending, currently more than 24 percent of gross domestic product, at 20 percent.
Romney said his and Ryan’s plans “share the same path forward: pro-growth tax cuts, getting federal spending under control and strengthening entitlement programs for future generations.”
But Obama was correct when he told the American Society of News Editors that greater benefits for the wealthy would mean higher deficits or “more sacrifice from the middle class,” such as greater costs for Medicare and student loans.
“That is not class warfare. That is not class envy. That is math,” he said.
As for health care, Obama and the Democrats have never figured out how to counter the fact that the satisfied majority saw no need for a program initially designed to benefit the millions who had difficulty getting insurance, either because they couldn’t afford it or were rejected by insurance companies because of factors such as preexisting conditions.
But like the ongoing budget debate, health care pits the Republicans on the side of the wealthy and satisfied, seeking to prevent additional government help for those Americans who need it.
That may be why they repeatedly resort to accusing Democrats of the class warfare that, in fact, the substance of their programs provides.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.
Readers may write to him via email at: email@example.com.